People often ask me, ‘How do you overcome the language barrier during travel’? I am fluent in only two languages. One of them is Bengali, my mother’s tongue and the other one that helps me to earn my living – English. I have travelled to such corners of India and the World where very few people know the languages I know. Then, how can I manage?
Travel taught me that using proper nouns and popular common nouns always help. Let me share one of my experiences. During my solo trip to Norway, I lost the way to get back to the hostel in Flam. I forgot to download the offline map, nor my internet was running. I met a gentleman who looked like above seventy. I started speaking in English, but he couldn’t understand. Though most of the Norse people, having an age of less than 50, know English but he was too old and hardly went out of his village. He was my only option to ask. I tried again but it couldn’t help. He kept himself patient and asked me something that my brain was unable to process. But I recognised the word ‘cruise’. Bingo!!! I just pronounced two words – ‘cruise’ and ‘Flam’ and showed my hand towards the north. My accent and body language were quizzical. He got my query and showed me the right way.
Not only the direction, few materials and feelings can be shown or expressed without knowing the appropriate word. Like food, water, money, love, latrine and so on. During my trip to Karnataka I applied the same rule. Amitabha Da and I wanted to have mutton for dinner. There were no such places, moreover it was late. We got an auto rickshaw puller and just said 3 words, “mutton, restaurant, eat.” He acknowledged our demand and took us to a food joint.
During my stay in hostels of Baltic Countries, I liked the late evening chit-chatting with hostel mates. There were people from every corner of the world but language was never a hurdle to understanding other’s stories.
Even the Europeans are too tourist friendly. While going from Siauliai to Riga, I asked a guy about the next bus. Initially he could not understand. Then he pulled out his mobile, opened the Google Translator and asked me to speak. After I spoke, the app translated it to Russian that he could get. He replied in Russian and the translator wrote it in English so that I could make out.
Sometimes gestures and postures communicate properly instead of the words. In fact, most of us know this trick. My friend Somoday shared his experience in Budapest. Somoday went to a restaurant to have breakfast. He had Euro in his wallet but that does not help in Hungary. Internet was also not in the expected speed. To avoid starving, he had to have the local currency Hungarian Forint. The night before, he went to buy a coffee and came across a bad situation. He started walking out towards the coffee shop where he found another man sitting at the previous night’s shop – and tried in vain to explain his need to convert Euro to local currency. Finally, he applied a common method. He took a Euro, tapped it with his thumb and forefinger and asked where he could get the money. The shop owner nodded his head and asked to go in one direction. There was a Western Union right there.
He shared another story. In Israel, pork is not available except in Russian stores. And the people in the Russian shop do not understand anything but Russian and Hebrew. He went to buy pork belly for preparing chili pork – but the shop owner did not understand. At the end, he showed a photo of pig in his mobile phone and put hand on his own belly. Finally, the shopkeeper understood!!!
In my solo trip from Dhauli to Bhubaneswar, I did not have time to walk down the hilltop. Suddenly I found a tempo filled with hay was coming. I asked for lift by indicating with thumbs. It worked out.
Actually, travel teaches the way to improvise with the given situation. Travel helps to overcome all the challenges during a journey.